By Tanika Smith Wheatley
I always loved the mist, until…
“Rachel!” Mia sounded excited, as she called me from her mobile. “I’ve just bought a cute, little red Exa Turbo Targa and I want to take it for a drive. Wanna come?”
I hesitated – I was writing on my laptop – well; trying to - my publisher was waiting for my latest story. “I have a deadline, Mia…”
Mia tut tuted. “Oh; come-on – it’s such a lovely summer day – just perfect for a drive in the hills – we can go wine-tasting, antique hunting…”
‘The hills’ is renown for its vineyards and quaint little villages for lovers of wine and antiques. I looked longingly out the window. The sky was blue, the birds were singing, and a gentle breeze played with the leaves on my patio outside – it was a perfect day for a drive in the hills, and I’d been experiencing ‘writer’s block’ all morning – an afternoon drive in the hills just could be inspiring…
“OK,” I sighed, “a little break from work might be a good idea…”
“Great – I’ll pick you up in about half an hour – oh: and pack an overnight bag, I want to visit my aunt Ava, who lives out there – I haven’t seen her for ages…”
“What?!?” But she’d already hung up on me – typically, she didn’t want to hear any further objections. She’d always been a controlling sort, but I didn’t really mind – I was quite the opposite; unsociable, I loved to spend all my time painting, writing, and gardening – if it wasn’t for Mia and a handful of other dear friends, I’d probably be living the life of a hermit.
An hour later we had the roof off, I had my long hair pulled back with elastic, both of us wearing sunnies, squealing and swerving around hilly corners and bends, laughing at nothing, and singing along with one of her favorite Minaj CD’s – we weren’t young, but Mia had refused to grow up and her youthful zest for life and adventure was quite contagious – she’d made me laugh when depressed after the love of my life ran away with a younger woman a couple of years ago – that’s when Mia and I met – at a writer’s club – but we had little in common; even our preferred genres differed – she was a romance writer, I wrote about the supernatural - so we’re both unsure how we become such good friends - she once said I was like a calming cup of tea – I replied she was like a strong espresso coffee, and we’d laughed – not having much in common to discuss, we mostly laughed and sang during our moments together. I wasn’t even a fan of Nicki’s but I must have heard her songs enough because I seemed to know most of the lyrics – and that’s how we commenced what was supposed to be our lovely ‘drive in the hills’…
I saw it first as we turned a bend – a wispy mist in the distance. “That’s unusual, for this time of year,” I pointed.
Mia took her sunglasses off. “It can’t be fog…”
Over my side, a river flowed towards the mist among soft Sour-sop meadows. “It’s pretty…”
“It’s eerie…” She frowned, as we neared the phenomenon.
It was suddenly cold as well, so we pulled over to replace the roof – the mist didn’t feel wet, but I kept that irregular deliberation to myself. I was glad I’d packed a cardigan and reaching over to my overnight case on the back seat, pulled it out and put it on – she turned on the heating, but we didn’t feel it…
“Damn!” She exclaimed, “I didn’t think to check that when I bought the car…”
No longer needing them, I also took my sunglasses off – the mist was getting thicker and thicker even when she put the headlights on, we had to crawl along slowly and squint to see where we were going. The dark shadows of trees loomed up on either side – there was something peculiar about them – then I realized – they were not only leafless, as they might appear in the wintertime, they were all twisted and mangled, the way ancient dead and decaying ones might look. I gasped. But I didn’t want to upset my driver, who was focusing on remaining on the road, so I convinced myself that I had an over-active imagination and kept my thoughts to myself.
“Look out!” I screamed as an old wooden bridge suddenly loomed up in front of us. It was a one-way bridge in the middle of the road, and we could very easily have driven into the side of it. Neither of us had seen a ‘Narrow Bridge’ warning sign in the mist, but I suspected there wasn’t one – I got out to guide her safely over the bridge – that’s when I noticed all the dead bouquets and tiny crosses and ribbons that had been hung all over the sides of the bridge – the sight sent a shiver up my spine – otherwise; the bridge would have been quite a pretty one – with wooden planks to drive over, and tree branches made up the side railings. Half-way across, I realized I’d been walking on moss. As if this bridge hadn’t been used for a long time. I peered over the side – the misty water silently proceeded underneath us – SILENTLY – no gurgles, no splashes, no winding river sounds at all - once we’d crossed, I got back into the car and still, I thought better of sharing my growing concerns with my driver – she already thought I had a weird imagination, said my books were spooky - perhaps she was right. Soon after the mist cleared a little, and we saw an unusual sight on her side – on the opposite side of the road, stood a cute little country cottage that had been converted into an antique store – with a couple of impeccable vintage Harleys parked outside of it – I stifled a giggle – a charming little ‘bric-a-brac’ place was not the kind of spot bikers would usually hangout. The front was almost completely covered in Ivy, and we might not have noticed the place at all, if we hadn’t slowed down because of the dense mist and small wooden bridge.
“Oh; let’s have a look…” Mia’s curiosity always got the better of her.
Goosebumps crept up to the back of my neck. “I don’t know…”
“Oh; come on – there’s a sign saying they serve cups of tea…”
“Exactly! That’s not the kind of place that attracts bikers – there’s something wrong…”
Mia looked back at me as she swung the car around and pulled up beside the bikes. “That’s not like you!”
“Being judge-mental – stereotyping – these might be a couple of bikers who collect antiques and enjoy a nice cup of tea…”
I couldn’t hide my grin – she couldn’t either, and we both burst out laughing and by the time she’d pulled on the brake and turned the ignition off, I’d run out of arguments.
So, I followed her in. Her in her cute little ‘Bardot’ mini, crop top and heels, and me wearing a ‘Mystic’ flowing gothic skirt, lace top, home-made knitted cardigan, and velvet slippers. We really were as different as coffee and tea.
A little bell rang as we opened the door. We must have looked as unlikely a pair of friends as the bikers looked in an antique tea shop. Apparently, it was their shop. They were sitting in their leathers, doing their bookwork, at a lacy, doily covered counter. Mia and I were having trouble stifling our giggles as they looked up when we entered and politely bid us a ‘good afternoon’.
Then they stood. They were tall. They were muscular. They were handsome. And although they both had neatly trimmed small beards, the facial hair failed to hide their masculine dimpled and dazzling, smiles.
They were flirting. Mia was flirting. I tried to busy myself looking around at the wares. They had a good collection of antiques and old-fashioned furnishings. And unlike similar places, everything looked lovingly polished. I ran my hand over a beautiful carved dresser. No dust. Everything looked so immaculate and – feminine. I looked back at the bikers. One was helping place a lovely ‘old-world’ pearl necklace around Mia’s neck. Mia was enjoying his attention. The other was watching me. I turned my face away; I didn’t want him to notice my blushing. Blushing!?! Like a teenager!?! I can’t even remember the last time I blushed.
I didn’t have to see him to know he was approaching me. I turned to face him just as he’d reached me. He was so close I felt myself lean back on the dresser. He hovered over me. I hoped the dresser was strong enough to hold my weight.
“May I help you?” Was his typical approach.
“Just looking,” was my typical answer.
“You don’t look the sort to…” I gestured with my hands, “run a place like this…”
“It belongs to our mum. We…” he pointed to the other biker, “We visit from time to time…”
“Oh,” I cleared my throat, “that explains a lot…”
Mia and her admirer joined us. “I’m Mia, and this is Rachel…”
“I’m Wade,” her admirer, who was slightly smaller of the two, patted his brother’s shoulder, “and this is my little brother Will…”
They probably always introduced each other that way, but we all laughed at the gag.
“I’ve always wanted to have a ride on a Harley…” Mia breathed coyly to Wade.
I wanted to kick her. “Mia!?!”
Mia rolled her eyes at me. “What! I have!”
“Why not?” Wade grinned as if grateful to stop working, “it’s been quiet,” he turned to Will, “let’s shut shop and take these lovely ladies for a ride…”
While they were checking everything was turned off and locked, I turned on Mia. “Are you mad? We don’t know them!”
“They’re loving sons of an antique dealing mother. What more do you need to know?!?”
“Who might take us to their gang!”
“Or who might just take us for a little joy ride…”
“Mia, they are too young for us…”
“They must be thirtyish, and we’re thirty-middle-ish, that’s not too young for us…”
“You have gone too far; this time, Mia - this is much too risky, even for you!”
Mia reached up and pulled the elastic from my hair. “And it’s about time you let your hair down and live a little. OK; some who take risks come to an unfortunate demise. But those who NEVER take risks – never know what it’s like to really live!”
By that time the brothers had completed closing shop and we followed them outside. Mia could hardly contain herself as we were given some ‘first time’ instructions about the importance of holding on with our thighs and leaning when they lean when going around bends. I reluctantly pouted and tied my full skirt up in a knot around my thighs to prevent it from getting tangled in the wheel. I didn’t miss Will’s grin. They’d obviously heard our argument. This made me pout even more so.
A few minutes later as I obediently leaned when Will leaned as we sped around a corner, I smiled to myself – Mia was right – I don’t know if it was because of the chilly mist, but my breathe caught in my chest – so this is the real meaning of breathtaking – and I let myself relax against Will and enjoy the thrilling sensation of riding through the hills. It occurred to me that they were going too fast, especially in the mist, but I didn’t care – for the first time in my life, I felt care-free – I felt young – I felt brave – and I felt pretty…
I can’t remember leaving the road – I don’t know how long we’d been off the road before I realized we were riding through sour-sops – on a little track alongside the river. Our drivers pulled up. We stretched our legs. We breathed in deeply. We sat among the wildflowers. There was no need for words. We put the little yellow flowers in our hair. We must have looked like hippies sitting among the soft sour sops and giggling like children.
Holding hands, Wade and Mia removed their footwear and ran into the water, joyfully splashing each other. Will removed his shirt and boots and walked into the middle of the river – the water lapped around his chest when he turned and beckoned for me to follow.
I took off my cardigan. I did not feel the cold. I walked out to Will. He wrapped his arms around me just as he rolled and we spiraled underwater together – I don’t remember taking a deep breath before we went underwater, I don’t remember needing to surface to breathe – I was only conscious of how we’d seemingly become as one – rolling in an intimate embrace with the undercurrent – I was not aware of anything else except us – if we went up for air, I was not aware of it – how far downstream we drifted, did not concern me - I was only aware of how ‘right’ this felt – I did not care if I could breathe, I did not care if we never surfaced again – I felt as though I was in the right place, with the right person, and I did not want the moment to end.
But I did eventually come back up spluttering, and a part of me noticed with some chagrin that when he surfaced, he didn’t – he wasn’t even panting, or grasping for air - a part of me even thought ‘impossible’, but I was much too happy to be too concerned for long…
I don’t know how long the four of us lay among the sour sops; just happy to be together – but with the darkening of the evening, and in unison, we reached for our shoes and within minutes, we were riding back to the shop.
We kissed our bikers good-bye, got into Mia’s little car, and took off.
A few moments later, the mist cleared – so did our heads. And we found our tongues again.
“Wow!” Mia shook her head in disbelief.
“What did we just do?” I asked her.
“I – just had the BEST...”
“Don’t say it!?!” I interrupted her.
“I’m not sure…”
“I know we became as one – with the river, with the current – I know it was so blissful that I didn’t care if I were dead or alive…”
She laughed. “You, Rachel, should be the romance writer…”
I laughed. “It was sex Mia, not love…”
Then we pulled up at her aunt’s place. “Didn’t care if you were dead or alive Rachel,” Mia said as she got out of the car, “now that doesn’t sound like just sex to me…”
“Shut Up!?!” I said as I got out, “your aunt’s coming…”
*** *** ***
Mia’s aunt Ava had a beautiful country home, the sort that was continuously warm from open fireplaces and always smelled of baking. After a little supper, wine, and small talk on the veranda as we watched the sunset, Ava showed us up to a room. It was a cozy little loft that had been converted into a guest room, complete with an ensuite. But what caught my eye was the lovely little paned window. I felt drawn to it. The view was stunning. I hadn’t realized as we drove here that some of the hilly peaks were so high, and there was even a sparkling waterfall – even in the darkening of the night, I can see the white spirals as it splashed on rocks and meandered down – I had to lean closer to the window to see – I gasped – the water flowed into a misty river, with an old wooden bridge, surrounded by sour sops – even in the dark, the yellow was plain to see – didn’t they close for the night, like most flowers? What we’d just experienced, had only been a field away from our destination – I frowned – it seemed as though we’d driven for quite a while, but we’d been talking and laughing, so I guess not…even more unnerving, was that I had been so entranced earlier, that I didn’t even recall noticing a waterfall…
When Aunt Ava left, closing the bedroom door behind her, I turned to Mia. “I hadn’t realized your aunt lived so close to…to…”
Mia came to the window. “Neither did I – nor did I notice the house from there…”
Mia smirked. “We were having much too much fun, to notice anything else around us…” she nudged me good heartedly; then disappeared into the ensuite with her bag.
When she’d finished, she climbed into one of the two single beds in the room - then I went into the ensuite to get ready for bed. By the time I emerged, Mia was softly snoring – Wade had tired her out. I went to my bed, but before I turned down the sheets, I couldn’t resist going back to the window – I quietly lifted the latch and opened it wide – I sat on the sill and looked out to the river – it was quite dark now, but I can still see the black winding river – I can still see the light mist as well and I wondered about the beautiful, but mysterious brothers down there. I smiled when I remembered how afraid I’d been, when I first saw the dead trees, and dead flowers on the bridge. How a little mist can play games with the imagination and make things appear a lot spookier than they really are. In broad daylight, on our return drive home, we’d probably notice that the dead trees were just a few remnants of ancient gums and obviously, there’d been a fatal crash on the bridge and loved ones and locals had left flowers there.
I had never had a ‘one night stand’ before; I’d thought I wasn’t the type – I blamed the mist, the river, the sour sops and – I blushed as I recalled the sight, the way the water had lapped around Will’s muscular chest. But Mia was right I realized as I admired the view from the window; I now have a precious memory that I would not have had if I’d been my usual prudent, sensible self. I would never forget the way Will and I swirled in the current together. Locked together. As one. I wistfully sighed at the cool, night view. I blew a secret kiss. I hoped that he was still down there somewhere. But they did not live there. They were visitors from elsewhere. We will probably never see them again. Men as good looking as they were, would be used to females throwing themselves at them. I wouldn’t be surprised if they’d taken several females for a ride, and for a swim…
Something about daylight brings us crashing back to reality. Still, we were cheerful over breakfast, and remained cheerful while doing the dishes, singing a Minaj song like a couple of adolescents.
Ava shook her head at us. “You’re like a couple of kids, not thirty-something year-olds…”
Although no-one believed it; I was closer to forty - but nothing was going to dampen my spirits. Knowing the real me, this was probably going to be my one and only sensual adventure, ever. Mia flicked some dishwater at me as if proud to be the one responsible for my reckless behavior which in fact, she was. I whipped the tea-towel at her, and we giggled like a couple of naughty juveniles.
Later, while we were enjoying some home-made lemonade on the veranda, Mia informed Ava that I grew herbs, and asked her aunt to show me her own precious apothecary. That was out the back, where I’d spent most of the night gazing from the loft window above.
“What a lovely view,” I couldn’t resist commenting when we walked around there, wondering why her aunt preferred to sit on the veranda on the other side of the house that faced the road and did not provide privacy, or as wondrous a view. After all, it was one of those verandas that went right around the house. We could sit at any side.
As if reading my mind; Ava answered, “yes; lovely – but also sad – don’t you feel it?”
“See the mist? Occasionally, there’s mist down there, no matter what time of the year…oh, I’m just being a silly old woman…”
Then it dawned on me. That’s what I’d been feeling when I noticed the dead trees and flowers. “A little, but – why would this place feel so – sad?”
“I don’t know. It might be coincidence, but ever since the death of a couple of young men many years ago, nothing’s grown here,” she pointed to her garden, “except for the poisons, or weeds – they thrive, where nothing else grows…”
I blinked. “Death?”
“An accident on the bridge on the old road…”
“Oh; yes,” I nodded, “I saw the flowers…”
“The locals believe it’s haunted, so that road hasn’t been used in years. Nor has the council bothered to keep it maintained. I thought it had been closed. I’m surprised it’s not…”
“No; it’s not,” Mia frowned, “that’s the way we came…”
“Well; use the new road when you leave, it’s wider, safer…”
They were discussing directions and where Mia will find the new road while I carefully walked around the Deadly Nightshade, Hemlock and Bella Donna patches. I sneaked a peak in the direction of the bridge. There was still mist in that area. Only that area. So much so, I couldn’t see the bridge clearly.
The others caught up with me and Mia while ‘oh-ing’, bent to touch some of the harmless looking berries.
I turned my attention from the mist and grabbed her, holding her back. “Don’t touch those – unless you know how to handle them, you’ll swell, could get ill, possibly even blinded - for a few hours, maybe a few days…”
“That’s why I wanted you to meet my aunt, Rachel, you’re both…” Mia had wanted to say witches, but knew she’d be scolded if she mentioned that word. She knew I did not like that term. Not when the dictionary describes witches to be evil, devil worshippers, who cast bad spells and curses. “You’re both…both…” she was searching for a fitting description.
“Skilled?” I chose a word for her.
“Yea…skilled in your craft…”
I rolled my eyes. “We know something of plants and their uses, that’s all…”
“Yea – right!?!” Mia rolled her eyes.
The three of us laughed. And after Ava and I discussed our opinions on what remedies were best for certain ailments, and how much to use, and the importance of precisely the correct amount, that they could be either therapeutic or toxic, Mia decided it was all too complicated (she was bored with it all) and suggested that maybe we should be thinking about returning home – she did not like driving at night.
It was another warm summer afternoon by the time we were back in Mia’s car, the roof down, our sunnies on, Nicky Minaj’s CD playing, when we were waving to her aunt as we sped away, the squealing wheels kicking up pebbles as we did so. I think Mia imagined she was a racing car driver.
Mia seemed confident she’d find the new road home. But by the time we’d reached the mist, and were peering intensely for signs, we found ourselves back on the little wooden bridge.
“I didn’t see any signs, or roadblocks,” Mia frowned.
“Are you sure,” I teased her, “or did you purposely go the wrong way?”
“I suppose it’s easy to make a wrong turn in the mist,” she smiled wickedly.
It was my turn to be sarcastic. “Yea – right!?!”
I cleared my throat. “You know this area can be seen from the loft window?”
“And; it was misty down here last night, and this morning also…”
“I wonder if this place is always misty.”
“Like some kind of natural phenomenon?”
“Mmmm…” she sounded despondent. Then I noticed why. The mist was clearing, we’d come across the little antique shop, but there was no sign of the motorbikes parked outside.
I felt disappointed also. “Let’s stop anyway…”
She didn’t have to be asked twice. We pulled up in the exact spot we’d parked yesterday, leaving enough room for possible biker visitors.
The little bell rang as we entered. A little old lady sat at the counter where the brothers had sat yesterday. We both felt disappointed. We’d both hoped that perhaps the bikes were out the back, and the brothers were still here.
I made for the dresser that I’d admired the day before. I ran my fingers along the intricate carvings. I almost blushed as I remembered Will coming to me, hovering over me, and saying…
“May I help you?” But it was not Will, it was the lady at the counter cheerfully asking me – asking both Mia and I, if we needed any assistance.
“Just looking,” I answered, and wondered if I should ask if the brothers were still around or had left. Then something about the woman made me freeze. Her dimpled smile reminded me of – them – they’d said the shop belonged to their mother – were we looking at their mother? But she was very old, frail, and grey. She was old enough to be their grandmother, maybe even their great-grandmother. Much too old to have sons in their late twenties or early thirties. It was possible she was a grandmother, looking after the shop for her daughter. But I didn’t have any more time to wonder.
The woman was looking at the pearl necklace that Mia was still wearing. Then the woman looked among the jewels in the counter.
Mia’s hand went protectively to her throat. “It was given to me – yesterday…”
The woman’s eyes narrowed. “But the shop wasn’t open, yesterday…”
“Give it back,” I advised Mia.
But Mia wouldn’t. “Wade! Wade gave it to me…”
The woman paled.
“Give it back!” I ordered Mia, “or pay for it!”
The woman looked at a photo on a shelf beside her. Our eyes followed her gaze. The photo was of Wade and Will, sitting on their bikes, smiling their sexy dimpled smiles.
“That’s him,” Mia pointed to one of the brothers, “he gave it to me…”
The woman almost toppled from her chair. She grabbed the counter for support. “Those are my sons…”
The way she said it, made me immediately realize something was wrong. Still, I was not prepared for her next words…
“Who are dead!”
Mia and I looked at each other in disbelief.
My finger traced Will’s handsome face. “Oh; Will…”
“They can’t be,” Mia started, “they took us for a ride on their Harleys…we…they…we…”
“They…were killed in a motorbike accident on the bridge down the road thirty years ago! I told them not to buy the bikes. I pleaded with them not to! But they didn’t listen. Apparently they were speeding…Will clipped the rails which caused him to somersault through the air…” she swallowed, “right in the path of Wade – they didn’t have a chance… ”
“The mist…” I gulped, “perhaps the mist blinded them…”
The woman turned to me. “Mist? It hardly gets misty around these parts…” she gulped. “Yet ever since…sometimes…nah; I’m imagining things…”
I turned to the window. If there had been any mist, it had cleared. It was a bright, sunny day outside.
Mia sniffed. “No…there must be some mistake…” tears welled up in her eyes. I had never seen Mia cry. I took her arm. “We’d better go…” I whispered to her, “now give the necklace back…”
Mia reached around her neck to unclasp the pearls.
The old woman shook her head. “If Wade gave them to you, I’d rather you keep them…”
We both looked at the woman in surprise.
Mia swallowed. “You – you believe us?”
The old woman nodded. “Their names are not on the photo. How else could you possibly know their mames…besides…I always suspected they still visit me…”
I guided Mia out of the store. We blinked in the bright sunshine. Down the road, a large sign plainly read the old wooden bridge was unsafe and directed drivers to a new road that branched off to its right…
“Give me the keys; I’ll drive…” I helped Mia into the passenger seat. She slumped down into the seat, tightly grasping her pearls.
As we turned off down the new road, I glanced at the old bridge – there were no dead flowers – of course their wouldn’t be, after thirty years…
We took off in silence. Later, as we rounded a bend and our town came into sight, Mia sat up.
She turned to me. “What the f…f…f…just happened?!?” She never swore. No matter how perplexing the situation.
I shook my head. “I don’t know, I really don’t know…”
“Did we just share some kind of crazy dual dream?”
“I would have thought so, except for those pearls you’re wearing…”
She settled back in her seat and fingered her pearls lovingly. There were tears streaming down her cheeks.
I tried to make light of the situation. “But now, I have a story to write…”
She managed to laugh even as the tears refused to stop. “It’s a romance. It’s my story…”
I frowned at her. “Are you sure? You believe in love at first sight?”
She unsuccessfully tried wiping her tears with a tissue. “You win. It’s a ghost story…”
I looked at the pile of tissues in her hands. I looked at the tears that refused to stop flowing. “No, you win – it is a tragic romance…”
“We’d better write it together, then…” she sniffed.
I nodded. “Good idea…”
I didn’t tell her how I’d noticed a couple of bikers surrounded by mist following us for a while, then pulled off the road and watched us leave while we returned to the city – nor had she noticed when I’d put my hand up through the open Targa rooftop of the little Exa sports-car, to wave good-bye…
About the author
When I was a young child, I would wake up in the night screaming because of nightmares. As time went on, I realized that I was looking forward to my dreams. They were much more exciting than my real life. So now, I write about my dreams...